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  • The First Automatic Door Bell in History? October 2, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback


    ***Thanks to the person who sent this in. Sorry I can’t find your name now!***

    It is the middle of the first century AD and you need holy solace from priests in your native Alexandria. You head down the dingy streets of the city as the sun is just breaking and then turn out in front of the magnficient Serapeum, the finest temple in the Mediterranean. It is early and so the gates have not yet been opened. But you cannot wait to confess your indiscretions and throw gold before the life-like statues there. You push, then, the doors and, to your mortification, a great billowing trumpet blast rings out, alerting the whole complex to your arrival. Congratulations, you have just experienced the first ‘doorbell’ in history or at least the first door opening bell.

    How did the Hellenstic Greeks pull this kind of magic off, at the tail end of perhaps the most creative technological period in antiquity? There was no electricity so they turned to their preferred alternative, hydraulics, the source of many of the most remarkable ancient and medieval mechanisms, starting with primitive water thieves. Essentially a vessel with water was attached to the trumpet. As the doors were opened water was poured into the vessel by a pulley system and air was forced through the trumpet. Hence the deafening blast. The trumpet in question was not, in fact, associated with the Serapeum; nor with any specific temple in Alexandria. But it may have featured in one of the temples there: (i) as it turns up in the work of the first-century engineer Hero of Alexander; and (ii) as the Alexandrians were suckers for this kind of flashy new technology, as seen in various of their carnival parades.

    Hero gives us a brief but intelligible discussion of how the trumpet door bell worked (or would have worked if this was just his fantasy). Other marvels from his cookbook included a self trimming lamp, a singing bird and, Beach’s personal favourite, a vending machine that dispensed not chocolate bars or breath mints but holy water. Again it would be interesting to know whether these things were ever really used? Or was it enough for Hero to just dream them, as in many cases, Leonardo seems to have done? Other ancient automatons to go with our Chinese series drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Included here is a description of Humphrey, Oleson and Sherwood, Greek and Roman Technology, just in case any one wants to do this at home….